Georgia, Russia stoke fears of new conflict

5th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called on the United States and European Union to send a "clear message" to Moscow to help avert a new war, as both sides exchanged accusations of attacks and "provocations" in the region.

Tbilisi -- Georgia warned of the risk of a new war with Russia on Tuesday as Moscow raised the battle-readiness of its forces ahead of the first anniversary of their conflict over the rebel South Ossetia region.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called on the United States and European Union to send a "clear message" to Moscow to help avert a new war, as both sides exchanged accusations of attacks and "provocations" in the region.

"There is a risk. The Russians are exerting constant pressure," Saakashvili told French radio station RTL when asked about the possibility of renewed conflict.

"The latest (Russian military) manoeuvres are worrying. They refuse to respond to calls from European observers and unfortunately the media in Moscow are announcing a situation of imminent conflict," he said.

"Despite all that, I am confident that Europe and the United States will send a clear message" to Moscow, he said.

The Russian foreign ministry meanwhile said its forces had heightened their state of battle-readiness in South Ossetia.

"The situation is very worrying and the Georgian provocations ahead of the anniversary of last year's war are not halting," foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement.

"In connection with this, the battle-readiness of Russian troops and border guards stationed in South Ossetia has been heightened," he said.

Tensions have been rising between the two countries as they prepare to mark the one-year anniversary on August 7 of the outbreak of their five-day war over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

"At the moment, the main thing is not to allow an escalation and development of the shootings into a more serious clash. We are doing and will do everything to avoid this," said Nesterenko.

Georgia placed the blame for mounting tensions squarely on Moscow, insisting that it was not seeking a conflict.

"The Russian occupants and the proxy regimes continue to pursue their efforts aimed at further enhancing tension," the Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "Full responsibility for such actions rests with Russia."

Earlier Tuesday, Russia had accused Georgia of preparing a series of "provocations" on its de-facto border with South Ossetia, as both sides traded accusations of carrying out grenade and mortar attacks.

Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin also angrily accused the US of re-arming the Georgian military.

Washington is "playing the main role in re-equipping the Georgian war machine," he told the Interfax news agency in an interview.

And the Russian defence ministry issued a stark warning over the weekend that the military reserved the right to hit back with force if Tbilisi continued carrying out "provocations" in the area.

South Ossetia's pro-Moscow defence ministry said Tuesday that the border village of Ortev had come under fire from three mortar rounds late Monday but that there had been no reports of casualties.

Georgia had earlier accused South Ossetian forces of firing three rocket-propelled grenades at a Georgian police checkpoint near the border late Tuesday. No one was reported injured.

The alleged attacks follow frequent reports of ceasefire violations over the last week and a call from the EU for all sides to show restraint as the anniversary of the war approaches.

South Ossetia's rebel leader, Eduard Kokoity, said Monday that Russian soldiers based in the region had started manoeuvres, but this report was denied by a source in the Russian defence ministry quoted by news agency Itar-tass.

The war erupted last year when an attempt by Georgian troops to retake South Ossetia was rebuffed by Russia. Moscow then sent troops and tanks deep into Georgian territory.

After the war, Russian forces mostly withdrew into South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia but Moscow then infuriated the West by recognising both regions as independent.


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